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HOLIDAYS are numerous in Sweden; saints' days are very few; that is to say, these days are not observed as Catholic or Church festivals, but simply as Swedish or national holidays. The former idea they seem to class among the things that belonged to the old time.
St. Stephen's-day-Boxing-day, as it is sometimes rudely called in England, to the infinite perplexity of foreigners, some of whom want to persuade me that it is among us made the festival of our great national art—St. Stephen's-day is, in Sweden, in one sense, a greater holiday than its predecessor; it is observed in a less religious, but
more festive manner, than Christmas. Shops and offices of all descriptions are closed; visiting, meeting, congratulating, eating, drinking, walking, sledge-driving, smoking, and talking, may well fill up a short winter day.
My post of observation is my window, looking over my favourite place, Carl Tretons Torg. What a scene I look down upon now! the whole street, the whole place, covered with black figures moving over the snowy ground. Everybody is going out to dinner. You may know that such is the intention of these good people, for it is between two and three o'clock, and the women wear black hoods or black silk kerchiefs on their heads. Among true Swedes no lady, young or old, goes out to a party or public place without a hood or kerchief, which is taken off on entering. Maid servants, and decent women of the lower ranks, wear the kerchief at all times when abroad. A bonnet would be thought by them an impropriety, a “setting up for something above them;" their entire costume is still appropriate and distinctive. May they long retain their own fashions, and scorn the tawdry bonnets, flowers, and imitative modes of a similar class among ourselves !
To look out of my window on this bright day,
and over this charmingly clear and snowy prospect, one might fancy that the whole of Stockholm was moving out to a great funeral. Festivities at Sweden are solemn-looking things. Black is the state costume in every sense, and black is still the state dress of the plain and lower ranks. Formerly it was used at every ceremonial and visit of importance; and to-day the crowds of black figures moving in the bright sunshine, together with the always grave and quiet demeanour of the Swedes when out of doors, give one the idea of anything rather than the festive meetings to which all are hastening.
But are there no mourners left behind, no sick, no sorrowing? Are there no hidden mourners moving among
them ? Is the festivity of St. Stephen's-day undarkened by a memory, unalloyed by a gnawing heart-pang ? Why ask the questions ? They look happy, speak happily, walk along contentedly, looking as if the world were satisfied with them, and they were satisfied with the world. They are not thinking whether I, perched at the double window above their heads, make an atom of that world or not. But instead of pursuing reflections which might make the good, tender heart of
my kind friend, Frederika
Bremer, to ache, I will put on my cloak—and a bonnet, to show I am not going to dinner—and then I will take a walk, and distract myself, as my French friends would say, in the only way I
The winter air of Sweden is very exhilarating out of doors; within, it is quite the contrary; the rooms are so warm, the walls and windows so thick, the closed-up stoves so oppressively hot, that they make me stupid, heavy, and as indolent as a native. Now I am on Norrbro, gazing at a scene that never tires. Here, looking at this beautiful Mälar, in its unfrozen part, sweeping between snowy boundaries to cast itself into the Baltic, and at the widely-extended and brilliantly-white scene on either side, I get into a better humour than I was in my air-tight rooms, and forget to feel spiteful when I see fur-clad men pulling off their hats, and perhaps exposing a bald crown to the biting air, while they bow and bow and bow -three times is the mode—as if they were presented for the first time to the friends they salute, and then grasp them by the hand, clap them on the shoulder, or, perhaps, on occasions, hug them in the arms with all the warmth of brotherhood. And I forbear to envy the hooded women, who
are constantly stopping on their
to curtsey, and pull a hand from the inevitable muff, and extend it with a certain formal heartiness to meet another hand. I never have to pull out my
hand from the wide sleeves of my furred cloak, which I try to persuade the Swedes answer for the muff, into which all classes, even those without bonnets on their heads, must insert their hands. Voices are buzzing round me in congratulation or hopeful wishes. Perhaps even now some airy voice may syllable my name, but it does not reach me. Well, what matter? If I had to shake many hands, mine would be frozen; and if I had to say, " Hur star det till ?” or, “How do you do ?” my breath would be congealed, as it is on the countless moustaches and beards around me.
I returned alone, as I had gone out, and alone I was to be. There was no dinner dressed in the house this day; every creature had left the immense building, servants and all; a poor old woman was, I believe, in some remote corner, sent in just to see that no one ran away with it. I was alone, and I had to make the best of my solitude. I have said my respected and kind friends at the British Embassy had illness in their family, and no one else thought